Janet Mizrahi is a continuing lecturer of professional writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is also an author at BizCommBuzz.
This is a departure from my typical contributor posts. It chronicles my experiences teaching online in a journal format. I hope it resonates with you as you work to navigate teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 9: In the middle of the 10th and final week of winter quarter, receive email from Chancellor notifying faculty and students that UCSB will be going online through April. Dismay turns to horror turns to FEAR.
March 11: Last day with winter students. Was planning on holding class but department chair tells us to cancel. Meet with students in office. Hugs happened—so did tears. What great kids they were! I hope they don’t die. I hope I don’t die.
March 12–19: Spring break turns out not to be very springy or a break. A stunning array of emails offering “help” from campus specialists and well-meaning colleagues quickly turns to an overwhelming overload. I create a new folder in my email account just to handle these contradicting offers of help (“use only technology you are comfortable with!” “here’s some new technology you may find helpful!”) and move them into the folder so they don’t haunt me. Learn we will be online the entire quarter. I am too old for this.
March 20–29: One week till D-day, Doomsday, that is—the first day of spring quarter. I decide to pre-record lectures but am thwarted—the university is busy doing stuff to accommodate all the online activity and no one can get onto our CMS for THREE DAYS. I fiddle with my syllabi, answer student emails, correspond with colleagues on FaceTime, and stew. I might be getting a little grouchy toward my husband, who has been furloughed. Panic simmers, but then, a grim fatalism takes over. It will be whatever it will be.
March 30: The First Day. I’m actually kind of excited (and a little nauseated) to see how it will all turn out. I’m even going to get dressed and put on makeup! Don’t want to scare the poor students.
Well, that was… something. Somehow the first lecture went okay. I spoke, they listened, nodded, and no one fell asleep—a success by any measure. But somehow, my second class was online in a different Zoom session than the one I was in. Took 10 minutes to find them. They were nice about my technological blooper. I fall into an exhausted heap after six consecutive hours at my computer being upbeat and feigning confidence.
April 2: Oh. My. God. Cannot figure out Google Docs to save my soul. How am I going to grade these papers? Frantically message the IT gods and goddesses on campus. My problem is dire enough to be sent to the pedagogical expert. Heellllpppp meeeee!!!!!
April 8: Hmmmm. I have to say, week two wasn’t bad. After a one-on-one tutoring session with a techie buddy from campus, Monday classes were… okay. I really like the part where the students’ names appear under their faces on my screen. I could actually call on a student without silently praying I had the right name. And after the relentless paranoia about going outside, it actually feels good talking about my course content, which I know and love.
And another thing. Once I blocked Google Drive from my computer, I found out about our CMS grading application and used it instead. If I’m completely honest, grading that first batch of papers was kind of easy. I’m not telling anyone, but it actually took me less time. And another big bonus: No huge stack of papers to schlep across campus.
I mean, okay, I miss driving up to our beautiful campus on the Pacific Ocean, smelling the unique tarry/briny waft that always makes me happy; but I don’t miss the parking lot nightmare or trudging across campus in the pelting rain we’ve been having. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I LIKE this; but I now think I’m going to get THROUGH it. Still, I desperately hope that fall quarter returns to normal—I’ll be so happy to be in our too cold or too hot classrooms with insufficient technology and too many bodies that I might not even complain.